In the News

Crisis, or a crisis atmosphere, can be used to advance agendas and strategies that are not necessarily directly tied to those in the headlines. Little noticed in the welter of bad news and panic during the recent weeks have been some ugly moves by friends of agribusiness and some stories that reveal other, ongoing forms of destruction. There may also be potential for good hidden in recent events -- but any positive changes will only result from future organized efforts.

First, while there is still a slim chance at reversal, note the early October announcement by the Drug Enforcement Agency that any food product containing hemp (or any trace of THC) will be banned after February 6, 2002. Products to be banned include cereal, beer, cheese, and many others. Absent from the DEA press release, but found in the federal register, was information about a comment period for this new rule, ending December 10, 2001 (the press release is available at Comments should be submitted to: Deputy Asst. Administrator, Office of Diversion Control, DEA, Washington DC 20537; Att: DEA Federal Register Representative/CCD.

Food co-ops, which sell many of the products affected by the ban, can help generate comments for the DEA's consideration. The DEA move is inherently stupid in conflating hemp and marijuana, inherently irrational in economic terms by denying business development using hemp -- reasons enough to oppose the new rule.

In light of recent events, the DEA's timing provides a further, less obvious irony. Only a few public comments have been realistic (rather than merely rhetorical or euphemistic) about how U.S. policies promote terror and the desire for retribution. And few have acknowledged that our failed "war on drugs" is a prime example. In the American mode of attempting to deny or destroy that which we disapprove of, drug producers and users receive bombing, chemical warfare, arrest, imprisonment -- and financing. The immense resources used by law enforcement and the military for this war support lucrative illegal economies and murderous client movements and states. Those economies and clients become the enemy in whom we may or may not recognize ourselves.

Another unfortunate recent move in Washington was the Republican farm bill passed in the House despite opposition from many, even the White House. A crisis atmosphere helped produce enough votes to ratify a continuation of the worst of past farm policies: supply side management aimed at ever greater production of below-cost commodities; huge subsidies raked off by the largest producers and processors; and diluting or deleting measures that focus on sustainable farming practices, food and water safety, and market access in the face of concentration. Even though current policies along the same lines have produced major rural damage and depression, even though the subsidy structure is unfair, and even though we can't afford the gigantic "farm" budget proposed, the old guard showed its inertial power and upheld its shameless rewarding of a few.

On the Senate side, things look better for obtaining a farm bill that represents the needs of the future, including food security. But the contents of a new bill, which may be considered soon or not until next year, will depend considerably on what Washington hears from farm advocates and the public. Food co-ops are in an excellent position to educate and to help mobilize educated citizens.

As for bio-terrorism, that is standard U.S. practice when it comes to farming and plant diversity. Our government is in the forefront of a global drive to promote toxic agricultural petrochemicals, to patent seed varieties and in other ways undermine diverse food economies, and to pollute the food stream through abuse of antibiotics and genetic engineering. The World Trade Organization is the apex of these efforts, which threaten other nations' as well as our own domestic laws protecting consumers, flora and fauna, and local agricultural economies.

The past few weeks also brought more news of heavy U.S. pressure on European and other WTO nations to abandon restrictions on the spread of genetically engineered foods, including labelling. But the insidious, uncontrolled nature of that spread was highlighted by an alarming discovery that DNA analysis of corn varieties from remote Mexican locales revealed widespread contamination from genetically engineered strains.

The shape of the future -- battles over sovereignty, over democracy -- is becoming clear in the threat, upheld in WTO courts, to undermine local or national laws restricting the privileges of capital. An early October announcement from the Philippines described an alliance of peasants, minority associations, land reform advocates, and unions launched to fight "economic terrorism" under the World Trade Organization, whose potential impact they described as "the grandmother of all tragedies that would kill many generations."

The DEA, the farm bill, and the WTO reflect the official U.S. stance in the world, a posture that relies on police and military domination to protect our gross overconsumption and the prerogatives of investors. Alternately, cooperative principles and our international friends call upon us to build a multilateral world of shared wealth and diversity, the only enduring basis for addressing our many fearsome challenges. -- 10/18/01

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